After The Old Man passed and after the downwards spiral of emotions; after the funeral, after the tearful goodbyes, and the strange aftermath of energy that comes when someone passes away, I went back to the farm where I stayed, lived, worked and continued on my path of sobriety. Meanwhile,my Mother was still home. She was surrounded in the loss of my Father. She slept in the same room and in the same bed. The Old Man’s night shirt was still where he left it before heading to the hospital, which is where he died. She lived in the same house with the same memories that were built throughout the decades of a loving marriage.
My Mother was lonely. At the time, her husband was gone. Her oldest son at college and her youngest, namely me, was away and living on a court mandated farm.The company she opened and ran with my Father was failing and the money she had was dwindling.
Growing tired of her empty nest, my Mother decided to live out the dream she once shared with The Old Man. It was their wish (like most New Yorkers) to retire to South Florida. They were to spend the rest of their days in warm weather and on beaches with palm trees. It became my Mother’s goal to leave the home she helped build and find someplace of her own to begin a new life.
As for me, after The Old Man passed, I was in a strange sort of limbo. The leftover fog in my mind began to lift. The cloudiness from my drug use started to clear. I was straightening up. I no longer spoke like I was in a narcotic haze. Physically, I felt better. Emotionally, however, I was still in a strange, surreal place. It was suggested that as we enter sobriety, we are stuck at the emotional age of our entry into addiction. And me, I began young. I started at a young age—and if there were any truth to this theory, then emotionally, I was nothing more than a small teenage boy.
I had too many questions, but I had no idea how to ask them. I had a system of new and unfamiliar feelings. I say unfamiliar because I had spent much of my young life running from emotion. Now that I had stopped—I felt raw to the touch. I felt wet, like an infant fresh into the world. I was unsure how to process emotion and unaware that my feelings were shared by others. I thought I was alone and unique. It was there on the farm where I learned to process these emotions.
It was there on the farm where I learned the tools of how to live, what to do and how to stay sober. I lived with a great support system. There was always someone to talk to. I never felt lonesome. I never felt clogged or stuck in the mourning stages of my Father. I was surrounded, coached, guided and pushed by a family of friends who not only helped me overcome addiction, but they also helped me with the grieving process of losing The Old Man.
After filling 28 days in a short-term rehabilitation center, which was followed by 42 days in an adolescent treatment facility, I finished 11 months on the farm before I was able to go home. All the rooms in my house were the same as before I left. Except for my bedroom, which was in the mid-stages of being redone, the house was exactly as it was. This was eerie to me. It was eerie for many reasons. First, I felt strange because of the remnants of my left-behind life. It was strange to see how I lived before becoming sober. It was strange to pass some of my secret hiding spots or places where I used to hide my stash.
Moving back home was strange because I was faced with the memories, both good and bad, of my life as I lived it.
My Mother, still grieving nearly one year after The Old Man’s passing, walked with an obvious sadness. The home she lived in was no longer familiar to her. The house she helped run and decorate was a piece of her love’s memory. The bed she slept in was the bed she shared with her husband. The walls were decorated with pictures of her and my Father, together, in happier times. It was time for her to go. It was time for her to move on and follow the goal she once set with the love of her life.
And so, in the month of September during the year 1991, my Mother sold the house at 277 Merrick Avenue. She took what little she had left and moved down to South Florida. I stayed in New York. My brother was newly married. He and his wife stayed in New York as well.
My mother left to embark on a new life of her own; one without the boundaries or the constant reminders of her lost love. She left the memories behind, not to be forgotten, but to create new ones. I understood why she chose to move. I understood because I knew the benefits of living elsewhere. I knew the memories of loss surrounded her and living like this would do nothing else but hold her in a state of perpetual mourning. But more, I knew The Old Man would have wanted this. The Old Man would not want my Mother to feel alone or unloved. He would not want her to spend the rest of her days, grieving over his loss or isolated from the love from someone deserving of her company. Life goes on. It does so because it has to. The Old Man knew that.
After the move, time with my Mother was different. It was limited to visits and phone calls. I sent letters and post cards, which I wrote once a week. I found interesting post cards and sent them down to let her know she was loved and not forgotten. Same as I was off to set a new course in life, my Mother was free to find a new journey. She was free to grow. She was free to live and breathe; free to enjoy the life of palm trees and walks on the beach.
As I grew older, I admit to thinking less of the letters I sent. Life got in the way. My phone calls continued; however, they became less frequent. Life gained momentum as I became a family man and then a father. I went through divorce, met a new girl, fell in love and had a new wife. I became a homeowner. I dealt with the gain of wealth and then the loss of funds. I went from comfortable to bankrupt. I went through stages of manhood and different phases of fatherhood. The visits down to Florida were not as affordable or easy. And as my Mother aged, her visits to New York were less frequent.
Unfortunately, age was not kind in my Mother’s case. She underwent several surgeries in her spine. She was in pain and went through pain management. Her schedule was filled with doctor’s appointments and trips to the pharmacy.
And me, I went on with my life because life goes on. I became the head of my household and I no longer saw myself as Mrs. Kimmel’s baby boy. My Mother, on the other hand, only saw me as her baby boy, which was frustrating at times. As her health worsened, so did her memory as well as her patience. There are few words in the English language that are worse than dementia. But there is nothing worse than watching a loved one deteriorate.
It is not that I forgot she was my Mother—it is that I forgot I was a son. The role-reversal in this case is an uncomfortable one. It was me who answered the calls from doctors and spoke to them about her treatment. It was me who answered the calls from assisted living homes. It was me who dealt with the complaints and tried to act as a buffer between my Mother and the nursing staff. At times, it was me who had to speak, or sometimes shout, in order to get my Mother to listen to medical advice or behave with the medical staff. I admit it; this was frustrating. It was troublesome at times. I felt angry, and in many cases, I showed the lack of patience.
Last evening, I walked along the beach in Ft. Lauderdale. I was with my brother, a hero of mine, after we stood by my Mother’s hospital bed. We did as she asked, and after her last breath, we said goodbye. See, It was time for her to go.
Very much like her choice to sell the home at 277 Merrick Avenue and move on, our Mother has moved to someplace where she is no longer clogged by memory. She has outgrown this place and deserves something new. It was time for her to go elsewhere—someplace where she can breathe and be free. She is no longer leashed to a walker or a nurse’s attention. There will be no more doctors or tests or surgeries. She is free now. She is free to stand straight. She is no longer hunched over or uncomfortable. She smiles now. I know this. I know this deep in my heart. I know this the same as I know she is at last reconnected with the love of her life.
You went as you asked and with your two sons by your side.
Sleep well, and when you have the chance, please send me your address so I know where to send the postcards.